LGBTQ representation among comic book characters has exploded in recent years, but in 2021 it went supernova — both on the page and the screen.
Comics fans are still reeling from the news that next-generation Superman Jonathan Kent, the son of Clark Kent and Lois Lane, is bisexual. Although DC shared the news on Oct. 11, National Coming Out Day, Kent will explore his feelings for another young man in “Superman: Son of Kal-El” No. 5, dropping in November.
Queer representation in comic books has exploded in recent years, but in 2021 it went supernova: In part that’s due to an expanding presence in sci-fi TV shows and — with the release of Marvel’s “Eternals” next month — a blockbuster movie.
Below we celebrate a dozen comic book characters who hoisted the rainbow flag this year in print or screen.
No, Clark Kent hasn’t come out: His son, Jonathan, is taking on the mantle of the Man of Steel while Dad pursues an existential threat off-planet.
In “Superman: Son of Kal-El”, which is replacing the usual monthly “Superman” title, Jonathan falls for high-school reporter Jay Nakamura.
After Jon physically and emotionally burns out from “trying to save everyone that he can,” according to a DC Comics news release, Jay is there to support him. The two have their first kiss in the book’s fifth issue, out on Nov. 9.
Series writer Tom Taylor insists the storyline “is not a gimmick.”
“When I was offered this job, I thought, ‘Well, if we’re going to have a new Superman for the DC Universe, it feels like a missed opportunity to have another straight white savior,’” Taylor told Reuters.
“So, this isn’t everything to do with them. And there’s a reason this is coming in issue five and not issue one. We didn’t want this to be ‘DC Comics creates new queer Superman.’ We want this to be ‘Superman finds himself, becomes Superman and then comes out.’ And I think that’s a really important distinction there.”
Taylor added that he was proud “more people can see themselves in the most powerful superhero in comics.”
Back in August, Batman’s partner in crimefighting agreed to go on a date with another boy.
Numerous young men and women have donned Robin’s iconic red and green tights, but it’s Tim Drake exploring his sexuality, starting in “Batman: Urban Legends” Number 5, released Aug. 10.
In the story, Tim reconnects with an old friend, Bernard, who gets kidnapped by the Chaos Monster. Over the course of the issue, Tim realizes his feelings for Bernard are deeper than he’s realized.
“I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about that night and I — I don’t know what it meant to me,” Tim says after rescuing his friend. “Not yet. But I’d like to figure it out.”
Bernard then asks Tim out on a legitimate date, which the young hero accepts.
“Batman: Urban Legends” is an anthology series, so readers won’t learn what happens next for the pair until issue No. 10 in December, when Drake is expected to leave Gotham City.
The character has previously been linked to Stephanie Brown, the superheroine Spoiler. Should he prove to be bisexual or even bi-curious, he’d be the first male member of the Bat family to join the LGBTQ community.
“While female LGBTQ representation is very important, especially in comics, there is also a history of deeming these characters as ‘acceptable’ only because LGBTQ women are often fetishized,” “Urban Legends” writer Meghan Fitzmartin told NBC News earlier this year.
In the DC Comics universe, Batwoman is an out lesbian, Catwoman has been presented as bisexual and antiheroes Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy have been portrayed as romantic partners.
“It becomes uncouth for male characters to explore their sexuality because of what it may mean for the male readers,” Fitzmartin said. “Ultimately, what I want from art is for it to challenge the way we see the world and face us with the truth that exists below the surface.”
DC Comics introduced a nonbinary version of the Flash during “Future State,” a major comic book crossover event in January.
Jess Chambers debuted as Kid Quick, part of an alternate-universe version of the Teen Titans, in the holiday-themed anthology “DC’s Merry Multiverse” in December 2020. Their universe, “Earth 11,” is not that different from the DC universe we know except genders are reversed, with heroes like Wonderous Man and Aquawoman.
The speedster, who uses they/them pronouns, got a major promotion during the “Future State” storyline that ran through various DC books, miniseries, one-shots and anthologies in January and February and continues to impact current continuity today.
Chambers debuted as the Flash in the first issue of the two-part “Future State: Justice League,” released Jan. 12.
Writer Ivan Cohen said in a reality that is already commenting on gender, it felt natural to introduce a hero that defied the binary.
“In the DC superhero universe, we’ve got a superfast character, Kid Flash. And I thought about how ‘Kid’ can really be any gender,” Cohen told NBC News in November 2020. “There are all these choices we can make — why don’t we do something besides what we would have made up if it was 1965?”
Setting the story on an alternate Earth also freed him from decades of comic-book continuity.
“Earth 11 is such a blank page that making it more diverse didn’t require a lot of shoehorning. No one is going to run to their back issues and complain we contradicted something,” Cohen said. “If someone has a problem that a Flash from an alternative universe is nonbinary, there’s a lot of other comics they can read.”
Batwoman, a.k.a. Kate Kane, debuted in the 1950s as a female foil to the Caped Crusader. But in 2006, writer Greg Rucka reintroduced the character to comics readers as a lesbian vigilante kicked out of the military for violating “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
Genderfluid queer actor Ruby Rose was cast as the masked vigilante in The CW’s “Batwoman” series — the first time a lead in a superhero show was part of the LGBTQ community — but they departed after the first season.
During the “Batwoman” season two premiere on Jan. 17, 2021, bisexual actress Javicia Leslie took over Batwoman’s cowl, playing a brand new character, Ryan Wilder.
“What I love is that she’s not only strong enough to keep going, but she’s also an advocate and fights for her community,” Leslie told NBC News previously. “I think that subconsciously it plants seeds of empowerment in our community … seeds of power, strength, and toughness.”
Green Lantern is more a title than a single superhero name — it’s been used by numerous characters throughout DC Comics’ history. The most famous is Hal Jordan, played by Ryan Reynolds in the 2011 “Green Lantern” film. But the first hero to slip on the magic green ring was Alan Scott, created in 1940 by writer Martin Nodell and artist Bill Finger.
When Jordan’s Green Lantern debuted in 1959, Scott was relegated to an alternate universe and, over the decades, he’s retired, returned to crime-fighting, been tossed in limbo, become an elder statesman, and been rebooted as a young gay crimefighter on yet another alternate Earth.
This year, Green Lantern Alan Scott returned to his roots as an older WWII-era hero who has “walked this Earth for a long time, much longer than should have been allotted,” as he said in March’s “Infinite Frontier” #0.
In the same issue, penned by bisexual writer James Tynion IV, the gray-haired ring-slinger comes out as gay to his adult children, the superhero duo Jade and Obsidian.
Scott admits to having had relationships with a few women — including their mother — but added, “I knew there was something about myself I was hiding away.”
Scott says he was asked to be a guardian of the Earth, and tells Jade and Obsidian, “I didn’t think it would be right to take that job without finally being the whole of myself.”
In May, EW confirmed British actor Jeremy Irvine will play Alan Scott in the HBO Max “Green Lantern” series from Arrowverse architect Greg Berlanti.
Transgender character Nia Nal, whose powers include precognition and astral projection, premiered on The CW’s “Supergirl” in 2018, played by trans actress Nicole Maines.
But she didn’t make her comic book debut until June 2021, in a story featured in the “DC Pride” anthology that also featured out crimefighters Batwoman, Aqualad and Alan Scott.
“Date Night” was actually written by Maines. In it, Nia Nal stops the League of Shadows from poisoning National City in time to make her date with super-intelligent alien Brainiac 5.
“The bar is now set very, very high, because if you can be a superhero, you can be anything,” Maines told Buzzfeed in April. “It’s like, ‘Well, if I can be a superhero, everything else is very easily within reach.’ So, that’s what I hope people take away from seeing Nia.”
She also praised Dreamer as a chance to demonstrate “trans people are more than what’s in our pants. We are more than our trauma. We’re more than our gender. We are just fully-fledged superheroes, who have an arc outside of our transness.”
In June, Marvel’s “The United States of Captain America” miniseries hits stores, introducing readers to a variety of everyday people from all walks of life who’ve taken up the mantle of Captain America to defend their communities.
One is gay teenager Aaron Fischer, “the Captain America of the Railways,” described in a release as “a fearless teen who stepped up to protect fellow runaways and the unhoused.”
Joshua Trujillo, who wrote Fischer’s debut, said he is “inspired by heroes of the queer community: activists, leaders and everyday folks pushing for a better life.”
Trans artist Jan Bazaldua said she really enjoyed designing the character.
“I am happy to be able to present an openly gay person who admires Captain America and fights against evil to help those who are almost invisible to society,” Bazaldua said in a statement. “While I was drawing him, I thought, well, Cap fights against super-powerful beings and saves the world almost always, but Aaron helps those who walk alone in the street with problems that they face every day.”
Adapted to Marvel Comics by Stan Lee himself in 1962’s “Journey Into Mystery” No. 85, the Norse trickster god Loki is both Thor’s wicked half-brother and a perpetual thorn in the side of the mighty Avengers.
In Norse mythology, Loki is a shapeshifter who has appeared as a fish, a fly and a mare — and gave birth to Sleipnir, Odin’s eight-legged horse. In the comics, he’s been presented as an adult male, a child (“Kid Loki”) and a woman.
In the 2021 Disney+ series “Loki,” Tom Hiddleston’s version of the character was confirmed to be bisexual in the show’s third episode, which aired June 23. In it, Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino), an alternate-reality female version of Loki, asks Hiddleston’s character about his romantic history.
“What about you? You’re a prince. Must have been would-be princesses,” Sylvie says. “Or perhaps another prince?”
“A bit of both,” Loki responds. “I suspect the same as you.”
In a tweet that morning, “Loki” director Kate Herron confirmed the character’s sexuality, writing, “It was very important to me, and my goal, to acknowledge Loki was bisexual.”
“It is a part of who he is and who I am, too,” wrote Herron, who identifies as queer. “I know this is a small step but I’m happy, and heart is so full, to say that this is now canon in [the MCU].”
Loki won’t be the only queer in Asgard for long: Tessa Thompson, who plays Valkyrie, confirmed her character will be involved in an LGBTQ storyline in May 2022’s “Thor: Love and Thunder.”
“First of all, as king —as new king — she needs to find her queen,” Thompson told audiences in July at the San Diego Comic-Con. “That’ll be her first order of business. She has some ideas. Keep you posted.”
When Marvels’ “Eternals” arrives in theaters on Nov. 5, viewers will get to see the first out superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Played by “Atlanta” star Brian Tyree Henry, Phastos is described as “a brilliant inventor with a mind for creating weapons and technology.”
While Phastos is part of a tribe of alien immortals with fantastic powers, he is married to a human husband, played by out actor Haaz Sleiman. The two share a kiss, according to Sleiman.
“It’s a beautiful, very moving kiss. Everyone cried on set,” Sleiman told Logo TV last year. “For me, it’s very important to show how loving and beautiful a queer family can be.”
That may explain why the movie has earned a mature rating in Russia, where depictions of LGBTQ people in pop culture are prohibited.
Another Eternal, Sprite appears to be a mischievous tween but is actually centuries old and has been trapped looking like a child. Created by legendary artist Jack Kirby in the 1970s, Sprite has alternately been depicted as male, female and gender fluid.
In the upcoming MCU film “Eternals,” the character is being played by actress Lia McHugh, though it’s not clear what their gender identity will be.
Interestingly, Makkari, an Eternal whose super-speed allegedly inspired the myth of Mercury, has been changed from a male character in the comic books to a female character in the film, played by deaf actress Lauren Ridloff.
Wiccan and Speed
Super-powered twins Billy and Tommy Maximoff, the sons of Wanda Maximofff, a.k.a. the Avengers’ Scarlet Witch, made their print debut back in the 2005 comic book series “Young Avengers,” with Billy, alias magic-user Wiccan, already paired with his shape-changing alien boyfriend (now husband) Hulkling.
Tommy, the fast-moving Speed, was hinted to be bisexual, and the character confirmed he was dating fellow bi hero Prodigy last year.
The twins didn’t make their MCU debut until January 2021 in the hit Disney+ series “WandaVision” as the titular couple’s five-year-old sons. While they don’t exactly assume their grown-up identities in the show, they do begin to exhibit powers — Billy magically ages the boys into adolescence — and wear Halloween costumes that hearken to their superhero alter egos.
With the Scarlet Witch expected to appear in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” coming to theaters in May, and fellow Young Avenger Hawkeye debuting in her eponymous Disney+ series in November, it’s possible these queer siblings will be back soon, either on the big or small screen.
Since her 1980 debut in the pages of “Uncanny X-Men,” Kitty Pryde has been romantically linked to fellow mutant Colossus and Guardians of the Galaxy leader Star-Lord.
But she’s also been, in the words of writer Kat Calamia in GamesRadar, “the queen of subtextual storytelling” with flirtatious relationships with female X-Men Rachel Summers and Illyana Rasputin.
“Some may even go as far to say it was queerbaiting,” Calamia wrote. “Giving just enough to make queer fans ‘happy’ without actually having to deliver on any real representation.”
In Marauders #12, Pryde, who now goes by “Kate,” has been resurrected by her fellow mutants after being murdered by the treacherous Sebastian Shaw. Eager to celebrate her new lease on life, Pryde gets a tattoo and shares a kiss with the female artist who gave her the tat.
“It’s a wonderful scene,” Screenrant’s Thomas Bacon wrote, “not least because artist Matteo Lolli gives Kate a look of sheer delight after she’s initiated the kiss.”
Technically, Marauders #12 had a Nov. 2020 cover date, but since it confirmed long-held suspicions about the X-fave, we’re going to allow it.
“Kitty was trying to find her authentic self, and her near-death experience helped her achieve it,” Calamia wrote. “With so few bisexual characters in superhero comic books (and even fewer bisexual coming out stories), it makes it that much more important for Kitty Pryde’s bisexuality to continue to be visible,”
In the 2014 live-action film “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” Pryde was played by transgender actor Elliot Page.Internet Explorer Channel Network